“What’s for you, won’t go by you” is the positive mindset of in-demand South Armagh born jockey Brian Hughes, who will attempt to maintain the momentum of a great season at the upcoming Cheltenham festival in two weeks’ time.
Newtownhamiltion born Hughes is a past pupil of St Pauls High School in Bessbrook, though education was never really his strong point, “I wasn’t fond of school, but I am very grateful to the careers teacher for pointing me in the right direction”.
As a 16-year-old Hughes started his apprenticeship on the flat with Curragh based trainer Kevin Prendergast, though the flat racing was never the code he saw himself doing as there are low weight restrictions in place, that meant he was wasting regularly and that was not a sensible option as he was required to be at his strongest to be seen in the best light, so jumps racing was the only way forward.
Markethill based trainer James Lambe was a significant figure in the beginning of his career and gave him chances when others wouldn’t .Hughes recalls fondly the first time he properly got hooked on the jumps racing was at Down Royal racecourse when he went to ride track work the morning after the James Nicholson Chase day “I presumed we’d be going around on the Flat but when we got out onto the track we suddenly seemed to be showing the horses a fence and the rest was history, I loved it”.
Hughes took a massive gamble almost two decades ago when he decided to relocate to the north of England although in the beginning that didn’t look to be the right decision, he even considered returning home but on the knowledgeable advice of his father he remained a jockey, “My father said being a jockey was something that I was half good at and needed to stick at it” added Hughes.
Early mornings and late nights were something Hughes had to do to show the trainers and owners he was a jockey that was capable of riding to the best of his ability and willing to learn on their advice, thankfully his father’s wise words worked out to be the best piece of advice he had ever received.
He also pays credit to the ones who helped him find his feet including trainers Alan Swinbank, John Wade, and Malcom Jefferson, and in his first season in the UK, he got the recognition for his determination and became the champion conditional jockey, this got him taken more serious by other trainers who were keen to book him for their horses because of his strength and style in the saddle.
Hughes appreciates the importance of his booking agent Richard Hales in his recent success “Richard decides what I ride, recommends me where to go and gets it right more than he gets it wrong. Nine times out of ten it’s his decision and I go along with it, we talk twice a day about different rides and he inevitably has the last word. Without him I wouldn’t be in the happy position I am today”.
One memorable day which Hughes won’t forget anytime soon is his astonishing five winners at Musselburgh racecourse a few years ago, he claimed victories in the first four races on the card with Mitcd, Thank you Very Much, Mondlicht and Blue Kascade then landed the final event with Smart Ruler and for good measure Hughes was also runner-up in two of the other races on the card , but the modest jockey tells us “A lot of lads in the weighing room would win on the horses I won on, so I am fortunate to have ridden them and I am very thankful for the opportunity”, he also joked “I’m a bit embarrassed about all the attention if I’m honest”.
The most significant victory of his career was when he rode Waiting Patiently to an easy success at Ascot recently, it was an emotional victory as the trainer of the horse Malcom Jefferson had recently passed away “it was lovely to get this victory for a man that gave him so much support” added Hughes.
When asked about where Waiting Patiently will go next Hughes quickly answered, “Not Cheltenham anyway, perhaps Aintree as he would be more suited to that track unless the going got bad at Cheltenham then things could change”.
With the Cheltenham festival less than two weeks away it would be foolish not to ask this well-regarded jockey what horses he thinks will go well, to which he responded “Altior is flawless and looks unbeatable. The Jessica Harrington trained Supersudae will be hard to beat as his victory recently over a shorter trip looked impressive and suggest the longer trip would make him a banker”
What horse ridden by Hughes is likely to do well at the festival? “Cloudy Dream is a 16/1 shot presently and I feel he should out-run them odds and go close”.
This past few seasons Hughes has been going from strength to strength and there has been so much talk about the prospect of becoming English champion jockey now the likes of the great AP McCoy has retired, he replied “Of course people talking in terms of me becoming Champion jockey does boost your confidence but It’s a case of the more winners you have the more people want you, and that’s a great situation to be in and one that I will keep trying to do”.
On a concluding note, how does Hughes unwind away from horse racing? “I don’t have any other hobbies and seldom have any spare time but when I do I enjoy spending time with my wife and my son but as I said racing takes up a lot of my time” replies Hughes.
Hughes is a true ambassador for our local community and we are immensely proud of his achievements. We really look forward to cheering him over the line at the upcoming Cheltenham festival and with a bit of luck he will remain injury free and among the winners for many years to come.